Monday, August 27, 2007

Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales for Girls by Danielle Wood

It is written, in my rather crazed declaration in the post below, that my love for Danielle Wood's Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales for Girls began at the first line. The first line? "The trouble with f*llatio, in my view, is its lack of onomatopoeia". By all rights I could end this book review right now, but then that would be cheating.

I would like to take Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales for Girls and wave it in the faces of those who claim that fiction by women for women is stupid. I would like to take Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales for Girls and throw it in the faces of women who write stupid fiction for women, in an attempt to make them stop. Stop. Rosie Little is "the next Bridget Jones" for which we've been longing for ten years. But Danielle Wood is a sucessor to Helen Fielding only in that her writing is startlingly original, intelligent, honest, hilarious, sparkling, raw and full of life. Rosie Little Cautionary Tales for Girls is a successor to Bridget Jones only in that never has there been a book quite like this. If we must draw comparisons, may I suggest, somehow, Helen Fielding meets Sheila Heti?

A collection of short stories, but one which would convert even the short story's most reluctant reader, Rosie Little is their teller. Sometimes she is the protagonist, elsewhere a bit character. In the stories where she does not appear at all, she interrupts in brief stops entitled "A Word from Rosie Little", whether to quote "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" in Latin, to expound on aqualine noses (see below), or just for a word on, hilariously, p*nises. Rosie is witty, well-read, wary of wolves but only after a fashion. She and her entourage learn the hard way, such is the way learning goes, and their stories are recounted less as a precautionary measure (for it is too late for most of us I think), but rather to put real life on display in all its absurdity.

The relentless drive of a bride on "her day" leads to considerable embarrassment in "Vision in White". "Elephantiasis" tells the heartbreaking story of a reluctant collector of elephant knickknacks, and ends hilariously (though not for the character) with male strippers dancing to Henry Mancini. "The Anatomy of Wolves" about a woman who goes back to the man who hits her, and she goes back again. "Rosie Little in the Mother Country" about English pervs, and the impossible youngness of being abroad for the first time. Each of these stories stands up on its own, and yet together they make a collection which reads almost seamlessly.

Rosie Little is rare narrative voice: smart, literary, funny, naive. Her confidences win friends, and her cautionary tales underline universal experience. And somehow she doesn't become confused with her author in the way you might imagine-- Rosie remains distinct, vividly real in her fictional realm. In Rosie and her tales, Danielle Wood has created something incredibly important. Rosie Little's Cautionary Tales for Girls raises the standard for women's fiction, establishing the presence of greatness, and so wouldn't it be nice if readers refused to settle for less anymore?